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What I Wonder When I Wander: Why I Love Indian TV

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I was completely immobile for two out of the five weeks we were in India (if you haven’t read about me being rammed by a cow, you can do that here).

Luckily, not only was the bed in my spacious pink $8 per night hotel room comfortable, but there was also a TV on a swivel stand for perfect viewing angles. So, I watched TV. And I mean a lot of TV.

As it turns out, India is a great place to get sucked in to the boob tube! Rather than incessant U.S. sitcom reruns like in many other countries, India is a media-saturated society, comparable (in my experience) only to the United States in terms of the variety of original programming.

Up in that room, having cable truly saved my sanity. I realized that I may have had an entirely different experience in India than my able-bodied, non-tragedy-magnet partner Dani, but I did get to see such an interesting account of Indian culture – the elusive middle class.

people of indiaMuch of the middle class, at least where and how we were traveling, was not to be seen during our time in Kerala and Goa. They drive their own cars, live in houses outside of city centers. We were traveling by bumpy local bus and the train, sometimes in ‘sleeper’ cars but other times in second class, rubbing shoulders with some of India’s less fortunate. There was much less experience with the middle class.

Almost everyone knows about Bollywood, and that is a huge part of Indian culture. In fact, the three weeks in India before I became immobilized, we saw two different film crews out in the streets in Fort Cochin and in Palolem. For Western travelers it is so easy to become a part of the Indian media-scape that they can end up as extras in a Bollywood film within hours of arriving in Mumbai, the Bollywood capital.

bollywood film in the makingIt was inside that little box that I discovered the established middle class you always hear about. I watched MTV India – which airs as many similarly inane reality shows as in the US, I watched soap operas, classic Bollywood films and breaking news. I don’t speak Hindi, so I was limited in that way to only English shows, which are everywhere. One observation is that shows in Hindi or local languages are more common, while shows in English are aimed at upper classes.

What I loved the most was seeing Hollywood actors on the English language chat shows. I watched Will Smith being interviewed on Front Row by Anumpama Chopra. I also watched Koffee with Karan, an interview-style show with the engaging director/producer Karan Johar, who interviews Bollywood celebs. It’s all very in the know, and fascinating to watch. Even if your fame is only in India, in a country of 1.2 billion people, you are a mega-celebrity.

Shahrukh Khan aka SRKNo matter when you watch TV in India, you will see the most famous Indian in the world, Shahrukh Khan. We even knew his face, though not his name, before arriving in India. He is in almost every movie, music video, TV commercial, on every billboard, magazine cover, you name it, and his face appears somewhere in your view. He is also known as King Khan, and for good reason. His net worth is estimated at over $600 million dollars, and in 2008 was named by Newsweek magazine number 41 of the 50 most powerful people in the world.

In India, I even love the commercials. They reveal what’s on the market, and therefore what is accepted as mainstream, or ‘normal’. I learned that whitening products are massively popular, and I guess that so is domestic air travel, based on the number of commercials for airlines, plane tickets, and hotels. And then there are all the commercials for Indian weddings and the thousands of related products. 

india whitening creamNeither of us are big TV fans, in fact we didn’t even have a TV until the last six months of the four years we lived in England. Dani is still pretty anti-TV, but as we travel, I like it even more. I feel embarrassed about it and a little conflicted, because I am supposed to be out experiencing the culture and living life to its fullest.

What I wonder is, do you like watching TV when you travel? Do you watch it more as a connection to home (vegetating in front of an old episode of Friends) or to the country you are traveling through? What TV shows have you discovered abroad that you love watching – guilty pleasures included!
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Tags : indiaWhat I Wonder When I Wander

24 Comments

  1. Shahrukh Khan is so yummy and hot, I would totally switch teams…Anyhow…nuff said (lol)

    One of the things on our India to-do list is going to the movies to see a big Bollywood hit. I’m hoping for some downtime, too because one of the things I love to do when I travel outside of the US is watch television, especially the soap operas.

    Happy you’re up and around and seeing the sites!
    Laura recently posted..Snapshot: Beng Mealea Cambodia 2010

    1. The soap operas are just as cheesy and soapy everywhere 🙂 but definitely fun to watch! I don’t see the hotness factor of King Khan, but being worth $600 million, plenty of people must share your opinion! 🙂

  2. To answer your question: yes I like watching TV while I travel, but most of it is American shows on my laptop. Don’t be embarrassed, we can’t possibly explore 24/7. We need down time too like everyone else in the world.

    In India though I loved watching Indian TV. I don’t know what it is about it, but I loved it. I guess it was the color always so vibrant or the dancing… can’t believe you didn’t mention the dancing. I loved that in just abut everything they dance… and dance a lot. I liked that they really have their own lil world in India and that BOLLYWOOD is a huge influence of their culture. For some reason it made me happy that Hollywood is in the back seat there.

    P.S. Thanks for the link back. Still pretty cool to think I was an extra in a BOLLYWOOD movie.
    Jaime recently posted..60 images from Tahrir Sq. after the historical announcement of Egypt’s new President.

    1. You totally called me out on the dancing Jaime. I had written a whole bit about it, but the post got too long so I cut it out! But you are SO right – the dancing! That is constant and incredible 🙂 And yes, I also love that they have their own world, with Bollywood and everything around it, and that Bollywood is much more influential than anything going on in Hollywood!

      1. I knew it… I knew you had to of noticed it, but I know what you mean when a post gets to long…lol. I sometimes can cut out a paragraph or two and my post still make sense. Now that just ain’t right…lol!!!
        Jaime recently posted..Faces of India in photos.

  3. TV really is a window into the culture of a country. Our little niece and nephew were at my in-laws’ house last weekend, and watching the Disney channel was an enlightening experience for me. I’ve learned some truly disturbing things about the aspirations of the American middle class.
    Megan recently posted..Party People

  4. We watched TV in Spain while house-sitting. There was free to air (spanish) and pay t.v., but not all channels. We do not have pay t.v. at home, so were not sure how to use it, and they did not have all the channels, so we just used to cruise through all the channels until we found something that was accessible and in English. Ended up watching trashy T.V. shows from Great Britain mostly. It helped fill in spare time. When we are moving we do not watch T.V., but then we don’t travel as much as you do.
    jan recently posted..Why Not House-sit?

    1. That’s funny about watching trashy British TV in Spain, but with all the expats there, it’s not a surprise that there is plenty of English TV to watch!

    1. Oh! We’ll have to look out to visit his house – is he based in Mumbai? Bollywood movies are fascinating, aren’t they? Music videos are basically mini-versions of them, too. TV in India is so colorful in general!

  5. I love Indian TV too, and agree that even the ads are fascinating. I could never quite put my finger on what it was that I found so captivating but I think you’re right – perhaps it’s got something to do with getting an insight into India’s middle class – a facet of Indian life that I don’t think you necessarily otherwise come across when you’re travelling as a backpacker in the country.

  6. You are right…I am an Indian and have been living in London for the past 2 years ! I have tried to like British television but TV back home in India is way more colourful and exciting for me !!! 😀 India is a country of contrasts…my foreign friends are surprised to know that I have never travelled in a second class of an Indian train or travelled by bus in the cities. I have always traveled by air or the 1st AC of a train or driven a car ! Sometimes, I feel that my foreign friends have experienced more of the ‘India’ that you find on the streets 🙂 I have realised that their is a huge indifference from the upper stratas towards the less fortunate people…In fact, this is the reason that India has such a strong class system and a huge disparity between the rich and poor.

  7. Wowow sorry to hear about your ” Holy Cow” experience! But I have to say u r so lucky to have experienced Indian TV. I don’t have a TV here in the UK but love tele in India. It’s how I learnt some of my Hindi,because I used to watch the Hindi over dramatic soaps…the equivalent of Sunset Beach or Dynasty!! Lol
    I fell in love with Shah ruk years ago in 1998. When I watched one of my first Bollywood films in Hindi for about Rs 15 with all the locals in Bombay!! The film is Kuch Kuch Hota Hai…it is still one of my fav Bollywood movies and is still as popular today as it was back then when it came out. It stars Master Khan and Kajol,who I named my pup after….u must watch it!!! The songs are fantastic and it is how I bartered in all the markets,made friends with all the “classes” in India…just by singing this one song ” Kuch kuch Hota hai” around India!!

    Another classic came out same year but it was a flop purely because it does not have a classically formulaic Bollywood plot,because the ending is tragic. It is amazing and has the most amazing cinematography of Mr. Khan again and a dancer and many other dancers,singing ” Chaya Chaya” on top of a train going thru THE most beautiful scenery…must be in the North I would imagine…or sometimes they film in Switzerland etc for the scenery. This film is called ” Dil Se”…. Please try and watch. At the time of cassette walk men hehe I used to play these songs over and over,which is probably why I know all the words but hardly any of the meaning!! Hehe!

    And also check out the magazines….Indian Elle or Vogue or the Bollywood ones called Stardust etc.. Oh and my fav Femina! Lol wouldn’t dream of reading these in the UK,well sometimes for a particular article but their tips and style is so amusing and informative into the Elite of Indian society..it’s all quite funny…from a Westerner’s view point.

    I also like the spiritual channels…with Guru’s chanting and worship of various deities. Oh Mother India…I love you!! Xxxx

  8. Haha…yes I have watched all Bollywood films…especially Shahrukh’s ! I love him too 🙂 Every Indian does ! I grew up on ELLE and Vogue in Delhi….used to be all excited during my teens to read the style tips and all 😉 What was your point of view when you read all our Indian fashion magazines…I would love to know !!! 😀

    1. Hey Akshuna thanks for commenting! To be honest, I didn’t get to read a lot of fashion magazines. We were not in a lot of places where they even sold them, and most of the time when we were in a city, we were running around planning things like the houseboat or buses and trains to our onward journey. However, there is no doubt another month or two of my life that will be spent in India, so I will definitely pick up the paper every day and read magazines as well!

  9. No problem Jess ! It’s a pleasure to read your experiences about different destinations and cultures ! To be honest, the Globetrotter girls have inspired me to pursue my passion for travelling and travel film-making 🙂 I would love to meet you if you happen to come to India again some day and treat you to Bollywood films, Indian food and magazines of course 😉

    Would you like to check out my Facebook page for my company called Travelista Productions?

    https://www.facebook.com/TravelistaProductions?ref=hl

    It will be really nice if you can Like my page and continue to inspire my adventures 🙂

    1. Akshuna that’s great! So excited that you have been inspired. When we get to India, we should definitely be in touch when we go to India again!

  10. Hey Jess, Thanks for the Like 🙂 And definitely, I would love to meet up with you sometime in India or in London. In the meantime, keep doing the great work you girls are doing and I am sure I will stay excited and inspired 😀

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